“What do you do?
Some movies are so damn stylish that you can’t help but fall in love with them. Maybe I’m just some dumb guy who thinks fast cars and violence are cool, but if you find yourself in the same boat, this is certainly the movie for you. Director Nicolas Winding Refn manages to craft a fast, fun, arthouse flick with one of the strongest visual styles in modern cinema. There’s a slick atmosphere to this movie that never falters, resulting in one hell of a ride from start to finish.
I’ll say that Drive has been a personal favorite of mine for a while. I remember the first time (of many) that I watched this film, and the opening chase scene introduced me to the character of The Driver. As Ryan Gosling pulls off that perfect getaway sequence against all odds without breaking a sweat and walks out of that parking garage totally unscathed, I stared wide-eyed at the screen and said, “Woah.” That pink cursive text on the screen, the jamming soundtrack, and Gosling’s badass detachment at the forefront of it all, you know from the start that this is a movie about a concept. Drive aims to be a striking piece of art, and in my humble opinion, it succeeds unquestionably.
Those that read a lot of my reviews may begin to notice my problem with writers who overstay their welcome. I find it incredibly admirable when you can tell your story in 90 minutes, cutting out the fat. Drive takes this notion a step further, telling a 90 minute story with such brevity that it feels like an hour. I could watch Ryan Gosling pull off slick car maneuvers for hours, but the team behind Drive makes the smart choice of not satisfying this desire. When you have such a fun visual style coupled with on-the-nose writing, it’s always better to leave your audience wanting more. Every scene in this movie feels absolutely critical to the plot. Characters in the movie, particularly The Driver himself, don’t like to say a lot. This makes every line important, and every line that isn’t important feels like a precious gift. This includes my favorite line from the whole film, “You want a toothpick?”
Some have criticized Drive for being unintelligent. They may point to the glorification of violence, the simple plot, or the overall sense of minimalism. I would argue that these people fail to see the calculation behind the whole thing. The plot is pretty unique for its simplicity. A more boring script would have made hackneyed choices such as Irene’s boyfriend being upset about the presence of the Driver, setting them up as opponents for some cheap conflict. Rather, Drive is a film full of surprises. You may feel a lot of things while watching this movie, but I doubt you’ll ever be comfortable with where it’s headed. The plot isn’t complex, but it’s certainly smart. The Driver is a fascinating character whose lack of outward expression keeps the audience at a distance as a sort of observer. The bit about too much violence doesn’t ring true for me, either, as it always seems like a logical plot progression to include violence, never just filler. The same can be said for the romantic element of the plot. Both the romance and the violence are prevalent aspects of the film, but they are clearly kept restrained as to not dominate the story. This is what Drive comes down to: a lesson in restraint. You don’t get to dive right into this heightened, stylized world. Rather, you are given these beautiful little tastes, and moments of payoff feel so much more rewarding in turn.
The acting in the film is fantastic all around. Ryan Gosling leads the pack with a very reserved, hard-shelled performance that lends itself wonderfully to the noir genre. He’s the rugged hero – no question about it. (Gosling apparently restored a 1973 Chevy Malibu himself in preparation for the role, which is pretty cool.) I was caught off guard to see Bryan Cranston make an appearance the first time I saw the film, but he finds his way into the narrative perfectly. He takes on the father figure role, the guiding force behind the Driver. Other standouts include Christina Hendricks, Carey Mulligan, and Oscar Isaac, who I believe is one of the most talented rising stars of the last few years. Everyone in the film captures the experimental noir style beautifully, almost exaggerating their acting styles to the point of metanarrative. This is certainly a film where we know we’re watching a film, so Drive takes the often successful approach to just embrace it and go over the top with its style.
Drive is a fun movie, and this is hard to dispute. Any fan of cinema will appreciate its stylistic twist on the noir drama, and even your average Joe will enjoy seeing Ryan Gosling race around and do cool car stuff. This is a film that I can always turn on for a good time, one that I have come back to time and time again like an old friend. Maybe one day I’ll mature out of it, but I don’t see that day coming any time soon.
Films Left to Watch: 975